Amsterdam Left Out of Netherlands Legal Weed Experiment


Amsterdam, a city long associated with relaxed weed rules, has been left out of a pilot experiment with legal cannabis sales now underway in the Netherlands. In a vote last week in the Netherlands’ lower house of Parliament known as the Tweede Kamer, lawmakers excluded Amsterdam from a list of cities to be added to the European country’s experiment with regulated cannabis cultivation and distribution. The Tweede Kamer also voted against an attempt by conservative lawmakers to halt the experiment, which will be expanded this summer to 10 cities across the Netherlands.

The experiment launched late last year in the Dutch cities of Breda and Tilburg. Under the pilot program, which will soon be launched in eight more cities, the government is regulating the cultivation and sale of recreational cannabis. 

Although the Netherlands in general and Amsterdam in particular are known for a pragmatically tolerant outlook on weed, cannabis is still illegal nationwide. Despite the prohibition, cannabis is easily available at so-called coffeeshops, which offer a range of weed products including flowers, joints and hash to adult customers. The coffee shops, which number approximately 565 nationwide, are supplied by underground growers who are generally allowed to operate without government interference.

Many government officials are concerned, however, that organized crime groups have taken over cultivation of much of the weed that ends up in coffeeshops in the Netherlands. This concern led to the country’s first experiment with regulated adult-use cannabis cultivation and distribution. 

The experiment began in December and is being rolled out in select municipalities under what the government calls a “closed coffeeshop chain experiment.” The initial phase of the experiment is expected to extend for six months in as many as 11 cities.

“During the startup phase, growers, coffeeshop owners, transporters and supervisors will gain experience with the supply and sale of regulated cannabis and its supervision, secure transport and the use of the track and trace system,” the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport said in a statement, according to a report from the Associated Press.

Later this year, the Netherlands’ experiment with regulated cannabis will be expanded to the cities of Almere, Arnhem, Groningen, Heerlen, Voorne aan Zee (formerly named Hellevoetsluis), Maastricht, Nijmegen and Zaanstad. City leaders in Amsterdam hoped to join the experiment, despite some claims that doing so would make it easier for underage youth to get weed.

“The experiment will not make access to drugs easier for young people. It just means that the production and distribution will be removed from criminals” Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema told the publication NL Times, according to a report from MJBizDaily.

“This actually protects public health and facilitates enforcement policy. If you want to control cannabis use better, you must also check the ‘back door.’”

Amsterdam’s bid to be included in the experiment was denied by a March 5 vote by the Tweede Kamer. While the proposal had the support of the Netherlands left-wing and centrist parties, conservatives in the far-right Christian SGP and the far-right nationalist PVV political parties defeated the bid by a vote of 78-72, according to a report from Forbes.

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Amsterdam Exclusion ‘No Surprise’

The exclusion of Amsterdam from the cannabis legalization experiment was not unexpected, says Jason Adelstone, a senior associate attorney at the cannabis law firm Vicente LLP, where he focuses on federal and international policy.

“I am not surprised that members of the Netherlands Parliament opposed the proposal for allowing Amsterdam to join the Dutch marijuana experiment,” Adelstone writes in an email to High Times. “With the far-right nationalist PVV party being the largest party in the Tweede Kamer, expanding the marijuana pilot program to include Amsterdam was a difficult proposition. Thankfully, those opposed to the marijuana pilot program didn’t have enough support to pause or completely stop the program altogether.”

Michael Sassano, founder, chairman and CEO of Somai Pharmaceuticals, a Lisbon-based manufacturer of therapeutic cannabis products, agrees that there “is no surprise that Amsterdam was ‘excluded’ from the program.” 

“The reality is that the Amsterdam coffee shop owners are very happy with their supply agreements both in quality and pricing,” Sassano said in a statement to High Times. “Most coffee shop owners understand that it will take some time for the legal Grow’s to get up to the current quality standards, and also the price will be higher. As the Netherlands progresses, going to a legal market for the entire country will be inevitable but it takes time and infrastructure to achieve this goal.”



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